December 4, 2023

Funeral directors wearing personal protective equipment carry a coffin during the funeral of a COVID-19 victim amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) nationwide lockdown at Olifantsvlei Cemetery, southwest of Joburg, South Africa, on Jan. 6, 2021.

Siphiwe Sibeko | Reuters

According to the World Health Organization, new and more contagious variants of Covid-19 are spreading across Africa, causing an increase in infections and deaths.

In the week leading up to Thursday, more than 175,000 new cases and more than 6,200 deaths were reported across the continent, the WHO said in an update, while infection rates were between December 29 and January 25 compared to the previous four weeks increased by 50%.

The number of deaths doubled to 15,000 over the same period, concentrated in 10 mainly South and North African countries. Infection rates are increasing in 22 countries.

“The variant that was first discovered in South Africa has quickly spread beyond Africa. So what keeps me awake at night is that it is very likely to be circulating in a number of African countries,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa , Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, at a virtual press conference on Thursday.

The variant first discovered in South Africa leads to record infection rates on the subcontinent and has now been identified in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya and the French region in the Indian Ocean in Mayotte, Zambia, together with 24 countries outside Africa.

The highly contagious strain originally identified in Great Britain has since found its way to Nigeria and Gambia.

The CDC in Africa has set up sequencing laboratories across the continent, and the WHO urged all nations to send at least 20 samples per month to the sequencing laboratories to coordinate a targeted response.

“In addition to the new flavors, COVID-19 fatigue and the aftermath of year-end gatherings can create a perfect storm and fuel Africa’s second wave and overwhelming health facilities,” Moeti said.

“Africa is at a crossroads. We need to hold on to our guns and duplicate the tactic that we know works so well. That is wearing masks, hand washing and safe social distancing. Countless lives depend on it.”

Infections last week fell slightly in South Africa, the worst-hit country on a continent that has largely avoided the exponential spread of the virus that stalled many major economies in various places over the past year.

As of Friday morning, South Africa had recorded 1,437,798 cases of Covid-19 and 43,105 deaths. The entire continent has reported around 3.5 million cases and 88,985 deaths, according to a BBC data aggregation compiled by Johns Hopkins University.